tv [untitled] May 20, 2012 10:30pm-11:00pm EDT
but impacted american history. it will air every weekend from june 3rd to december 2nd. on sundays at 10:30 p.m. eastern. all here on american history tv on c-span 3. and join us as historians preview the series on saturday, june 2nd at 10:00 a.m. eastern. from their point of view, they feel like old media is insufficiently fact checked. one thing that drive ls them crazy is anything that doesn't have a link to the source. so actually being inaccurate with your sourcing is much harder online than it is in print. because you can go check that link right away. and i think the internet community can keep you a lot more honest.
>> this was the most watched event in the past week at the c-span video library. watch it online any time. you can clip portions of the event, e-mail and blog post at c-span.org/videolibrary. why do we study first ladies? that was the question posed and answered at a conference titled "america's first ladies, an enduring vision." the conference was the second of three planned at presidential libraries in texas and was convened at the george w. bush presidential center in dallas. over the next hour, a panel moderated by abc news correspondent cokie roberts considers the role and influence of first ladies throughout history. >> now as a student of the presidency, i've been in presidential libraries for most of my life, i continue to be fascinated with and impressed by our first ladies, and we have
one of the best here with us already today, mrs. barbara bush will be here later, and how fortunate we and the whole nation have been to be blessed with her service. the same is so true when we remember the service of another incredible first lady from texas, lady bird johnson. looking back at history of the other first ladies, can you see how the office has been molded by truly amazing women like dolly madison, julia grant and edith wilson and, of course, the modern first ladies represented and are now our 13 presidential libraries. volumes have been and will continue to be written about their influence on the nation and on the world, how they have been agents of change for the better. i know that today's conference and this series of conferences will add to our understanding and appreciation of the vital role of the first ladies. so i want to thank you again for joining us. as you heard earlier, the next conference in this series is november 15th at the johnson library, so make sure you join us there as well. i now want to introduce our first panel. it's titled "influence-makers, first ladies through american history" and our panelists include first catherine allgor, a noted historian at the university of california riverside whose books focus on
some of my favorite first ladies, present company excluded. her book on dolly madison was nominated for the prestigious george washington book prize, and she's currently working a biography of louisa adams. she's written "parlor politics" in which the ladies of washington helped build a city and a government. next we are fortunate, very fortunate to have on our panel allida black, executive editor of the fdr for freedom initiative. she served as professor of history and international affairs at george washington university and is founding editor and advisory board chair of the eleanor roosevelt's paper project. education, and we're so grateful she could be here today, and we hope you come back and join us often, allida. the same is the same for our third panelist, amity shlaes who serves as director of the george w. bush institution for
progress. she's also a syndicated columnist for bloomberg news and author of a forthcoming book on calvin coolidge that will be the definitive biography of that very definitive body and overlooked president, an economics history we're very lucky to have amity as part of our panel, and finally we have our moderator cokie roberts. cokie, as i'm sure you all know, is an internationally acclaimed journalist who has won so many awards, including three emmys, she's in the broadcasting and cable hall of fame and was cited by american radio and television as one of the 50 greatest women in the history broadcasting. she's the author of two works that are especially relevant to our topic today, "founding mothers" and "ladies of liberty." cokie, it's a real honor to have you here, and with that i'll turn the proceedings over to you. thank you, thank you so much. thank you. >> well, what a treat it is to be here. mrs. bush, so good to see you, and mrs. collins, an old, old
friend, dee collins, from many years in washington, and these two women are out of a great tradition of the women who come as the adjuncts, really dumb term, to the men who make them, often make trouble and the women make it better, and the -- the ad that anita read, i was thinking at the end where it says the united states is an equal opportunity employer, actually not until a guy has to do all of those things and then we'll see how it goes. but the truth is the people are really so ignorant about the roles of first ladies and the jobs the first ladies have done throughout our history. so our little panel here is designed to try to shed some
light and reduce some of that degree of ignorance, because there's an idea, and allida is an expert on eleanor roosevelt, and there's this sense that before eleanor roosevelt, first ladies was sitting around and tending to the tatting, you know, pouring tea. >> exactly. >> and that couldn't be further from the truth, and even since eleanor roosevelt, there's a sense of not really being clear on who was doing what, and so -- and mrs. bush, you always complained that when your husband was elected, people said to you are you going to be barbara bush or hillary clinton, and, you know, i'd like to be laura bush, which, of course, you are and have been wonderfully, but, you know, there's always that thing that goes on, too.
in fact, i -- i read that bess truman realized coming in after eleanor roosevelt, she said i feel like elizabeth monroe coming in after dolly madison which was, you know, very historically accurate for her in a lot of ways, but cat, you don't mind if i call you your nickname. >> absolutely. >> you and i have both written about, you've written much more at length, that period of the founding, and, you know, martha washington we know was active politically and in terms of policy. you know, lobbying for the veterans benefits for the revolutionary war veterans she had been to camp with for the eight long years of the revolution, and abigail adams probably gives -- is the rule-breaker in terms of bringing civility. she was kind of causing troubles of her own, but dolly madison, dolly madison was really a figure in american politics that people don't have a really good sense of. >> yes, and i have to say something nice about martha
washington. >> it's easy to do. i liked martha. >> she's a very nice lady. >> mary washington, not so much. >> i think she wouldn't disagree if we sort of mentioned that she didn't have a taste for the role, right? so she said she at some point felt like a prisoner. >> state prisoner. >> state prisoner, but she acknowledged right away that there was something going on, that she understood that the american experiment was more than just politics or politics in a different way and she began right away even though she didn't care for it and would rather be home at mt. vernon, she wondered about protocol and in her own established different protocols. the founders understood it's not enough to have a constitution and a set of laws, we needed to remake life, life in an american way, and the ladies of that class talked about forming what they called american manners, and by manners they didn't mean tea cups and what fork to use but a way of being and a way of treating each other she went
some way towards that. as you graciously pointed out abigail adams not so much. more like a traditional, almost like a political partner to her husband. she was interested in ideas and politics, so it's not -- >> loved the sedition laws. >> sadly, we can point to her influence in policy in sedition laws. it's not really until dolly madison comes to washington in 1801 as the wife of james madison, secretary of state, that we begin to see a real political animal as first lady. she did have a taste for the job, and she establishes so many things that we now associate with the first lady, being the commander, if you will, of what we call the unofficial sphere of politics, the social sphere, the connection to the white house, the sort of role as the charismatic figure, and i must say i sympathize with everybody who followed her because everybody felt that onus of
being like dolly madison. she just set so much up in place. >> and essentially remained first lady, even after her successors came in. she ruled over washington for decades. >> yes. i was first drawn to dolly madison because she was so famous, and i didn't really understand that because i grew up in philadelphia so dolly madison ice cream, and i -- i watched those charlie brown christmas specials, dolly madison cakes and pies, and then -- >> i actually made a dolly madison cake on the martha stewart show, and martha stewart kept slapping my hand because i kept going to talk instead of making the cake. >> cokie, you have the most varied career. i cannot cop to baking anything, let me just say that right now, but i wondered about this fame that to discover indeed by the end of her life, we actually have photographs of her, because she lived long enough to be photographed, that she became
this icon and relic of the republic. that's when i understood that first ladies have the capacity to personify, if they so choose, and this is a pattern in american women in politics, famous or not. there's sort of two things. one is that there are women, real people, who actually do things, but then there's this also secondary capacity of being a personifying figure, charismatic figure, and i think many a first lady has come to becoming first lady, and realizing that this thing was sort of larger than life, and that was something that dolly figured out, so she bucks a figurehead for her husband's administration. now you know james is not terribly charismatic. >> no, and also very short. >> very short. he didn't have that personifying capacity, and she makes the white house into a symbol, and she fosters the attachment to the capital city, and all of this is happening in 1808. she doesn't know this, but in
1848 the british are going to burn the capital city, and all of this work that she put into helping the public identify with this how is that they called the white house under her term is going to pay off because it's going to give the surge of nationalism around the war. >> allida, you've written about all of the first ladies for the white house historical society, and so picking up from dolly, did you see them sort of carrying this theme through? >> well, yes, but they made it their own in a different way, and i think that -- i have to say as an aside that i love cat, and this is the first time we've ever talked in public together instead of shooting e-mails back and forth and talking on the phone for hours. she's never heard me say this. >> thank you. >> i think that what you've done to set the tone for all of us is really remarkable work, and you haven't gotten enough credit for it. >> thank you.
>> i mean -- >> i would say that -- that if i could tweak that a little bit and bring it in broad brush up to today is that what these women have done have shown amazing courage because they are calm in times when the country is going crazy. i mean, there's just no other word for it, crazy. because there's intense eruption in partisan politics right after dolly, you know, but then we really are breaking into politics which is a jugular sport, you know, which i thought we had gotten rid of it, if i may be personal for a moment. >> at least we're not shooting each other. >> exactly. >> in that period they were. >> in that period they were caning each other in the halls of congress. they were pulling guns out and shooting at each other, and so if you were looking at whether it's, you know, a war with native americans or american indians, whether you're looking at the civil war, whether you're
looking -- going counter-historically, whether you're looking at the war of 1812 or you've got huge economic depressions where the country is literally falling apart and there is no cash, i mean, there's no common currencies between states. there's no sense of a union at all, and so what these women do, regardless of the period that they are in, you know, have done what you did so -- i don't know the adjective for. >> beautifully. >> it's too calm. i mean, what you did was you lifted us up, you know. >> right. >> i mean, you did. and that -- you can't write that in a job description, and you sure can't go into the role expecting that's going to be your job. nobody told eleanor roosevelt
she was going to be in a foxhole. nobody told eleanor roosevelt she was going to fly in uninsulated military aircraft and spend five weeks on 17 islands in war time and have her ear drums shattered and go deaf in one ear because she's -- you know, she's flying through shooting ballistic for that time missiles. i mean, you can't prepare for this. >> and once she did that, the -- the generals who had initially been very hesitant to have her do that saw what a huge difference she made in troop morale like martha did. >> absolutely. >> and said please come back. >> absolutely. and they went on record in both the press and in their memoirs saying it was their single
biggest miscalculation of the war was to oppose her visit. and so i think you can't train for that. i mean, we can talk about policy. we can talk about politics, but the thing to me that is so remarkable about the women who have assumed this position is how much guts they have, how much brains they have and stamina that is just beyond imagination and a willingness to rise above it and just do it. you know, there's no time for what my beloved pat summitt would call a pity party, you know, and i think that's it. >> amity, that sort of really gets to, you've got a book coming out on coolidge, and grace coolidge was quoted as saying you just do it, and, you know, of course, i think that's true about women in general. we put one foot in front of the other, but she -- she had not been part of her husband's
political life. he had really excluded her from his political life, and suddenly he becomes vice president and she is in washington big time. >> yes, yes, that's right, cokie, and what do you just do when the war is not on, the rest of the time of being first lady when there's not a crisis. when i look at grace and the two people i'll mention who came after her, mrs. hoover and maybe mrs. bush as well, you look what they did, what they did was education, very, very often, they turn to that. so you have someone in grace's case, she was the first first lady who graduated from a co-ed state school. she graduated from the university of vermont, and she actually had this bit of professional trade training to teach the deaf, so she was incredible. >> and when she started dating cal, one of her friends said to her, you taught the deaf to hear. maybe you can teach the mute to speak. >> right, and she had a marital challenge of an intensely internalized, introverted
president, but remember, too, that the deaf and blind in that period were not as today. people looked away. disabilities were negative. it was -- and she brought them into society. she brought them to the white house. helen keller came to the white house. that was a very important moment for the deaf and blind that the first lady would recognize them and integrate them, and she had a great personality so she could draw out anyone. she was the opposite of the president, and she made that her work. i was thinking, too, of mrs. hoover who loved reading and who enabled readers and did enabling of reading all her life. >> she was head of the girl scouts. >> she was head of the girl
scouts so she's always thinking how to train up and lead out. she and president hoover translated "the race metallica" from latin and i think she contributed a lot of that, having gone over coolidge's college record, i know this at stanford, and she brought readers to the white house, and i was just reading a story, when her back was out once and she had to lie down, and there were some new learners, adult lit have i people from the mountains who did not know how to read until adulthood who came to see her. and she was so sick, but she nonetheless received them upstairs because she knew it was important for them to meet the first lady, even if the first lady wasn't doing too well. and she said, what do you read? here's what i read. don't read trash. read the great works. she was always there. with that in the background for president hoover, for these projects, and also with scouting. a lot of the presidents did scouting. i noticed that with mrs. bush because i'm a reader too, and when i first saw from the outside just observing the book festival and the literacy project and to have another
librarian there. i think the first librarian was alabama gayle filmore in the white house long ago. she had worked as a schoolteacher. to send that signal in our time is so another liberian there, i think the first liberian was abigail fillmore in the white house, long ago made a library, she had worked as a schoolteacher, to send that signal in our time is so important, and then the people who read the books or learn the things are better able to handle the emergencies of which we just spoke. >> well, that's absolutely right, and -- and i think that many first ladies have the experience, as you said, allida, of you think you're going to do this and then life happens, as you had with september 11th, mrs. bush. and i want to come back to that in a bit. but -- but on the theme of education, even there it can be something different than you expect. so, for instance, with mrs. johnson, she was always
interested in education, but -- but with the great society and the war on poverty and all of that, people started coming forward saying what's really needed here is early childhood education, which, of course, now we know we really need early childhood education and she tried to start headstart, and it turned out not to be that easy. >> this was the one planted question. >> she told me to ask this. >> because i love this, and i never get to talk about it, and it involves cokie's father. >> i follow instructions. >> but when congresswoman lindsey bogs or ambassador bogs was kind enough to let me interview her, we were talking about different policies, and i am passionate about education, and so she started telling me the story of how headstart actually got implemented. the program had been conceptualized. the money had been authorized, but they were coming down to the wire and they hadn't spent the money yet, and so it was spend the money or lose it. and so what mrs. johnson did was call cokie's momma, and they
called betty ford. and the three of them went to blair house, and they had phones put in in blair house just for the three of them, and they called every minister and every bus driver that they knew from the campaign trails because they had a week, a week, to get the program up and running, and so what they did was they said, okay, we'll use these buses. you know, the churches and different schools will use their buses, and that's how headstart money first got spent and the kids got to the classrooms. and there's a point of this. it's ingenuity. it's paying attention, and it's bipartisanship, and it's friendship focusing on an area of expertise that is good for the country, and it's a model that i think that we can all follow. >> yes, cat, i wanted to get to that part about the bipartisanship especially, you know. i had the great honor last
summer of speaking at mrs. ford's funeral, which she asked me to do, and then told me what to say, but -- because she wanted me to talk about that time when everybody was together, and dolly madison did that. she brought, you know, thomas jefferson would only have the federalists one night and the republicans the other night in the white house, but she brought everybody together, and even when they were really in partisan battles, they decided they couldn't skip her dinners because that's where everything happened and so they had to show up. >> yeah, and i think at this moment, as i'm listening to both of you, i'm sort of thinking in big themes because i'm a professor and there will be a test at the end of this, i'll say this now, and i think to myself why do we study first ladies? we don't do it just because it's nice. >> right. >> and we don't do it just because they are there, but by looking at the work of women, and in this case women who are spouses of presidents, we see thing and we pay attention to
things that we wouldn't. if we just paid attention to the official sphere. >> right. >> legislation and debates, press releases, so i'm seeing these stories, the idea of psychological politics so eleanor roosevelt is contributing to something called psychological politics which now we know are maybe the only politics there are. >> what does psychological politics means? >> it means how people feel about how they are being ruled, and they feel that way from the messages they get from the leaders, and what these women did is often send these messages about how they were ruling, about their families and their husbands were the right ones. for instance, i have to tell you the dirty little secret of american history and then we'll get back to bipartisan, which is that from the beginning we americans have had a fascination with aristocracy so we fought an american revolution against a king and against a -- >> yeah.
>> but that was only a vocabulary of power, royalty that we knew, so when it came time to legitimize this brand new nation that nobody was sure would really work, they wanted to have that kind of aristocracy so we have this crazy moment where john adams is arguing to call george washington my serene highness or something, but in the end we called him mr. president. >> and he said we'll call the president your rotundancy, and he called him mr. president and his wife became queen dolly. >> or the presidentess. >> the presidentess, but she answers that need for legitimacy and authority that we needed, and getting back to this idea of bipartisanship -- >> but also, let me just -- >> it was always a tug-of-war
which i think every first lady has also gone through. you have to be elegant enough and glamorous enough and all that, not just personally but as a style of the white house. people do look up to it and see this sense of royalty, but also down home enough so that you don't alienate people in this republican small "r" society, and martha washington knew that. >> yes. >> when she arrived in new york, as much as she loved her satins and silk, she arrived at the new capital at the time wearing homespun. >> and she also had these lovely white gowns that were supposed to signal the roman republic, but dolly madison did it the other way, i must say. she combined absolutely lavish outfits, i'm talking pink satin and little things that look suspiciously like a crown with -- tiara, but she had that kind of down home quality and
sweetness, and you're using the word bipartisanship, and this is the thing i have to say about dolly madison. there wasn't a word for -- there wasn't a word for that in the early republic. these were people who thought one party should rule, and anybody else was a traitor. unfortunately, there were two groups of people that thought this, and they didn't have a sense of working together, which was going to be the hallmark of a democracy with two parties in it, and somehow dolly madison understood that the salvation of the system would be to bring people together, make them behave and let them begin to see each other as people of good heart and not caricatures of evil. >> and that was particularly necessary at the time, and we're living it to some degree now, because washington didn't really exist. >> right. >> and so they were in these boarding houses with people who thought exactly like them. >> yes. >> and so they didn't have the sort of ameliorating discussions with other people who might not be exactly like-minded except in social settings. >> you know, dolly madison is famous for redecorating the white house and what she did is
restructure it, and what she did is created these huge public rooms where everybody, meaning every member of the government, their families, locals, visitors, diplomats, could all gather in one place, and this is amazing, but before her white house, you know, there was no place in washington where everybody could meet, even just all the members of the government. >> amity, in talking about this though, i alluded to mrs. bush's situation, so education was what she thought she was going to be doing, on her way to capitol hill to -- to brief the education committee when the first plane hit the trade towers, and then life changes, and all of a sudden another set of issues come out, in this case the women of afghanistan, the women of the world. >> that's right. you look at the situation and you respond, and you have to turn on a dime, don't you? that's the amazing thing. we watched mrs. bush do this, and identify with president bush that women were important to democracy in the middle east, something that other people picked up later. one of the things to give us a plug at the bush institute and the bush center, we have a big emphasis on women in democracy with these groups coming, like the egyptians who were mentioned earlier. vis-a-vis, i want to talk a little bit about grace since i
have her on the brain. she didn't expect to be the president's wife. they -- their status was pretty low in washington, they felt, when coolidge was vice president. they were stuck at the willard. she -- she loved animals. she couldn't have them, and in that the coolidges were like the theodore roosevelts, they had democracy in the middle east. something other people picked up later when things took -- a plug at the bush institute and bush center, we have a big emphasis on women in democracy with these groups coming like the egyptians who were mentioned earlier. visa veeshgs i want to talk about grace since i have her on the show. she didn't expect to be the president's wife. their status was low in washington. when coolidge was vice president they were stuck at the willard. she loved animals and couldn't have them. the coolidges were like the theodore roosevelts. she only had one animal who happened to be a rodent who came to eat all the food that all of the people came to -- when she had to receive as vice president and all of this -- and -- they were already talking about a new vice president